Tag Archives: cycle paths

CS2 from Bow to Stratford: Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width (Part 2)

This is the second in a pair of articles about the new section of Cycle Superhighway 2 from Bow roundabout to Stratford. You can read the first part here.

First, a correction

In the previous article on this subject I stated that the length of the segregated “Superhighway” was one mile, not the two miles claimed by TfL. Since then I have done some further measurements (by drawing a line on Google Maps) and found that it is in fact even shorter than that.

The new CS2 cycle track is 0.7 miles (1.1km) long on the eastbound side, and 0.8 miles (1.2km) long on the westbound side.

But as much as I bleat about it here, the damage is done. All the news sites have reported it as being two miles long, so hype has won out over substance again, and that’s the main thing for Mayor Johnson and his PR man cycling czar Andrew Gilligan. But while two miles might sound like a long way, it’s a drop in the ocean.

Let’s do some back-of-an-envelope maths. TfL controls 360 miles of road in London all of which are wide, busy and hostile to cycling. Stratford High Street is actually controlled by Newham council, but let’s be generous to TfL and pretend that it is one of theirs.

The new segregated bit of CS2 makes up 0.2% of TfL’s road network. So it’s taken five and a half years since Boris Johnson became Mayor of London to get half-baked cycle paths on just 0.2% of London’s busiest roads. Given this rate of progress, it will take 2750 years for all of TfL’s roads to get cycle paths.

I estimate that TfL-controlled roads make up roughly ⅓ of London’s ‘main’ roads, so the CS2 extension covers around 0.07% of them, and it would take over 7000 years for all of the main roads in London to become safe and inviting for cycling. I can’t wait!

Anyway, on with the show…


Sending out the wrong signals

Moving on to the next weak point, we arrive at a large signalled junction. This is the junction shown in TfL’s laughably awful instructional video on how to make right turns.

The first thing you’ll notice is that the protecting kerb stops before the junction, and the demarcation continues as painted lines, handy for left-turning drivers to keep their speed up as they cut across the bike lane. Further on, the cycle lane widens to create an ASZ in front of the nearside lane.

The junction of Stratford High Street, Cycle Superhighway 2 and Warton Road, showing strange and dangerous layout.

Mysterious bike box and speedy left-hook set up.

You can’t use it to turn right, only for going straight on or left. So what’s that ASZ for? What purpose does it hold?

You may also notice that there are no separate traffic lights for bikes. This means that left-turning drivers and straight-on cyclists get a green light at the same time. This is a recipe for disaster. It is already causing conflict.

A cement mixer waits to turn left at a Barclays Cycle Superhighway junction. It will get a green light at the same time as people on bikes.

This cement mixer is turning left. Would you want your children cycling here?

A van turns left while cyclists are green to go straight on, on CS2 at Stratford

Do you trust all drivers to give way to cyclists riding straight on here?

Again, this is a very fast road with lots of traffic. Plenty of vehicles turn left here, including buses.

And again, there is pressure on drivers to keep the main carriageway clear. If the light is green then it must be uncomfortable waiting in the road to turn left, knowing that speeding vehicles are coming over the hill behind you. That’s no excuse to bully through, but it is another example of designed-in conflict.

Why haven’t TfL separated cycling from motoring in time at this junction?

 

TfL’s pants

On the other side of the junction we find this:

TfL's attempt at a Copenhagen-style junction results in a strange short-trouser-shaped tarmac area on the footpath

It does look a bit like a pair of pants, doesn’t it?

I call it ‘the pants junction’ because it looks like a pair of boxer shorts, albeit with a very tight crotch. It even has a fancy logo on the left leg!

This bizarre construction is part of TfL’s “innovative” loop-de-loop right turn method mentioned above. The idea is that if you want to turn right here from CS2, you instead go straight on then turn sharply left onto the pants, then ride across a shared-use footpath, where you’ll find a similar bit of tarmac:

The edge of a footpath has a tarmac square with 'give way' markings on it, and a dropped kerb leading into an advanced stop box for bikes

Another one of TfL’s “innovations”

If you’re lucky enough to find the ASZ free of motor vehicles, the idea is that you can then wait at the lights to go straight on, completing your right turn.

One odd thing is that you can complete the right turn in any number of other ways. Testosterone-filled thrill-seekers can pull across into the outside lane on the main road, turning right in the traditional manner. The footpath all the way along Stratford High Street/CS2 is shared use, meaning it’s legal to cycle on the footpath. The crossings are all toucan crossings (for cycling and walking).

I get the impression that TfL didn’t really know what to do here, so they just threw everything that they could think of into the mix and crossed their fingers. There are even ‘Trixi’ mirrors, the cherry on this cake of kludges.

The pants arrangement above also enables those cycling from that side road to turn onto CS2 while the traffic lights are red, by turning sharply left across the footpath via the tarmac dropped kerb. The concept of a “turn left on red” for bikes is a good one, but the execution here is dreadful. Why do TfL continue to create new half-baked solutions to pre-solved problems?

This whole junction is a mess and should be redesigned from scratch.

 

Doing the Stratford wiggle

Continuing along the eastbound side, we eventually find ourselves at the end of CS2. The cycle path widens out here to a luxurious 3 metres or so, but that’s the best bit. (This is where the Mayor made sure he was photographed at the opening, of course.)

If you have eagle eyes you may notice this tiny sign:

A sign on Cycle Superhighway 2 at Stratford in London, showing a wiggly dance which must be performed by those using the route

“We will do things properly, or not at all” – Andrew Gilligan, breaker of promises.

If this junction was designed properly for cycling, signs like this would be unnecessary.

It’s strange that this sign has been put up at all really, considering that this is really the end of CS2 at present. Even if you manage to follow it you just end up in a bus lane. There’s no more blue paint beyond this point.

But the craziest thing is that it’s not actually possible to legally follow the directions on the sign anyway. There’s no dropped kerb so you can’t join the shared use footpath on the left anyway. The only dropped kerb is at the crossing itself, where people are waiting on foot. If the traffic lights are red then you can make the manoeuvre, but then you’d technically be jumping the red light. It’s a very incoherent end to CS2.

The eastern end of Cycle Superhighway 2 where users are expected to cycle onto a crossing where people are waiting.

To continue along CS2, simply pull left onto the crossing where that woman is standing. “Super” eh?

A photo of the bus lane which CS2 dumps you into.

Even if you follow the sign, you just end up in this contraflow bus lane anyway. Note that there’s no room for a bus to safely overtake a bike here. This is not all abilities, 8 to 80 provision.

 

Go West

The infrastructure westbound is pretty much the same as the eastbound side: a wide cycle path punctuated by poor quality bus stop bypasses and dangerous junctions.

But TfL have saved something special for the final stretch, just before the still-deadly Bow junction.

Cycle Superhighway 2 westbound, just before Bow roundabout. A dangerous side road treatment followed by a sharp bus stop bypass entry.

It must have been a Friday afternoon when they designed this bit.

There’s several things wrong here.

The first is the side-road treatment. Like the example in the previous post, the junction is dangerous. Despite there being plenty of space to take the cycle path away from the road here, it instead turns into a standard painted cycle lane. This is also the point at which the road widens to two lanes wide, so drivers aiming for the left-hand lane cut across the “Superhighway” to get to it.

This leads me to our second problem. The entry to the bus stop bypass is at an uncomfortably sharp angle, again for no good reason. The side road is one-way so there’s plenty of room to play with. Also, because the segregating kerb ends so far back, when motor traffic is queuing they can (and do) block the entry to the bus stop bypass, so people riding bikes must either wait in traffic breathing in the fumes or try to squeeze up the side of the queuing vehicles.

I shouldn’t have to do TfL’s job for them, but it should look something like this (although I missed the ~30º angled ‘forgiving’ kerbs off, they’re time-consuming to draw):

An altered photograph of Stratford High Street leading to Bow roundabout, showing how a cycle path and road junction should be done.

It’s really not that difficult.

 

In conclusion: Sigh.

This new section of CS2 is certainly a step forward from the rest of the route, which is not only extremely unpleasant but so dangerous that it has been the scene of several deaths.

And yet what has been learned from these deaths, nearly all of which have taken place at junctions? Seemingly nothing, as the junctions on the new segment of CS2 remain as deadly as those on the original section.

Kerb separated cycle tracks make for a more pleasant journey along the straight bits, but it’s the junctions which are the most dangerous, yet TfL have made no improvements there.

It’s been suggested that as this is TfL’s first ever segregated cycle track, we should be forgiving of mistakes made due to lack of experience. Sure, I’d be happy to forgive the odd small error, but this whole route is deeply flawed.

TfL’s engineers are not little kids who deserve a pat on the head for making their first Lego house. They are grown men and women, highly qualified, paid tens of thousands of pounds each year.

Sure we should praise TfL when they do stuff well, but the new CS2 is a third-rate cycling facility which is so poorly put together that it floods. What are they teaching highways engineers these days?

Two photos of rainwater flooding in the brand new Cycle Superhighway 2

I can’t wait to ride here in the winter. (Photos by @sw19cam: 1, 2.)

Those responsible for this should already know what they’re doing. The learning curve should be shallow, not steep. It’s not difficult to learn about cycling infrastructure that works for everyone.

There are British highways engineers out there who do know how to do this stuff properly, why weren’t they employed to do this? Or were there genuinely skilled people working on CS2 who were hamstrung by their bosses telling them to keep it cheap and keep the cars flowing?

 

Can the London Cycling Campaign claim victory yet?

The LCC posted two articles about this new bit of CS2.

The first post  is an honest assessment of what the authors found when they visited at the end of October. They point out many of the flaws of the new route.

The second post has a much more self-congratulatory tone, hailing this as a success of the LCC’s campaigning and protests.

But I don’t think the LCC should be patting themselves on the back, at least not very hard.

At the LCC’s 2013 AGM, a motion calling for “uniformity of provision and suitability for all ability groups” was passed by a huge majority. The purpose of this motion, as I understand it, was to finally kill off the bad-infrastructure-zombie known as the “dual network“. The flawed concept of the dual network has been hampering cycling design for far too long, and I’m glad to see another nail in its coffin.

But what this motion also does is commit LCC to push for infrastructure which is suitable for everyone – the fabled “8 to 80” cycling conditions. Allow me to paraphrase from the motion:

“The cycle network for London must be uniform, in the sense that there must be equal suitability, usability, and level of safety, of all the facilities, for all cyclists who might use them. It would be a mistake for the Superhighways or Quietways to be specified in a way that makes them less suitable, for example, for use by children, or by inexperienced cyclists.”

Surely this motion means that the LCC should only be crowing about facilities which are suitable for everyone? CS2 on Stratford High Street doesn’t meet these requirements. Not only are the junctions unsuitable for children, they’re also unsafe for confident cyclists. While I myself would always use the bus stop bypasses, flawed as they are, I witnessed several cyclists pull out onto the main carriageway to pass the bus stops, especially ones busy with waiting passengers, before pulling back in to the cycle path.

So we’ve got a facility with bits that experienced, confident cyclists avoid using, and bits that are unsuitable for those unwilling to mix with heavy traffic. Motion 5 means that the LCC shouldn’t be crowing about this as a success, but demanding that the flaws are fixed immediately.

 

Things can only get better

Having said all that, for all its flaws, the new CS2 is clearly an improvement on some previous attempts at cycling infrastructure:

A photo of CS2 next to a much older, faded cycling facility - a very narrow channel taking bikes off the road onto the footpath.

This must have been fun to use!

Well I guess we’re definitely progressing, albeit at a glacial pace.

 

 

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CS2 from Bow to Stratford: Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width (Part 1)

This was going to be one long piece about the new section of Cycle Superhighway 2 in east London, but I realised what a large task it is to cover all the weak points. So this is part one, you can read part two here.

I really want to be complimentary about TfL’s new flagship cycling facility on Stratford High Street, so I’ll start with the good stuff:

  1. The cycle tracks are generally of a good width*

So that’s the good stuff over with. I’m afraid to say that TfL’s highwaymen still have a lot of lessons to learn.

Never mind the accuracy, feel the length

Before I start banging on about all the juicy detail, I’d just like to point out that the route is around one mile long, and not the two miles which has been widely quoted by the BBC.

I don’t know where the idea originated that it’s two miles from Bow roundabout to Stratford – presumably a TfL press release has been stretching the truth by counting each side of the carriageway as a separate length.

It may sound pedantic, but Leeds and London are 200 miles apart. That does not mean the M1 motorway is 400 miles long. It’s 200 miles long. Each carriageway forms part of the same road. So the new bit of CS2 is one mile long, or around 1500 metres. (Credit goes to bikemapper for spotting that sleight of hand.)

The new CS2 is not what we have been campaigning for, is it?

So if the width is good, what’s bad? Well, nearly every detail of it is substandard, scoring from ‘less than ideal’ to ‘crap’.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Heading east from the deadly Bow roundabout (which I didn’t even attempt to use, by the way) the kerb-protected section doesn’t even start immediately. There’s a tiny bit of footpath-level cycle path round the edge of the roundabout but then it drops down to road level and runs for the first 300 metres or so as a mere painted cycle lane.

Here, this “Superhighway” crosses several side-roads and driveways, and there’s lots of construction traffic turning across the blue cycle lane. Large, fast, heavy vehicles pass within a few feet of you.

The footpath-level cycle path turns into a painted cycle lane. Note the HGV tyre marks have covered the blue within a day or two of it being painted.

The footpath-level cycle path turns into a painted cycle lane. Note where the HGV tyre marks have already covered over the blue at the junctions within a day or two of it being painted.

Soon we come up against our first bus stop, but as the segregating kerb hasn’t started yet (despite there being acres of space) it’s an old-fashioned one. The bus stop marking hadn’t been laid when I visited, but it was clear from the very narrow strip of blue paint that cyclists are expected to overtake stopped buses with no room for error whatsoever.

A photo of TfL's CS2 at Bow roundabout, with dangerous cycle lane and bus stop design.

Very disappointing. Imagine there’s another bus in this photo, stopped in the non-blue area on the left. That tiny gap is the “Superhighway.”

This would be a poor bus stop design even by 1990s standards. What the hell are TfL thinking installing this here, in 2013?

No cycle lane at all would be better than this, as the installed lane encourages riders to squeeze around stopped buses. And should a cyclist choose to ride further out, it will cause annoyance to drivers who are ignorant of why a cyclist isn’t using the “Superhighway” provided.

Dangerous junction design

For me, the biggest failure is the junctions. They all fall into the ‘crap’ category, many of them even into the ‘dangerous crap’ category.

It’s very important to get them right, but TfL have just resorted to painted cycle lanes rather than doing the job properly. Let’s have a look at one:

A dangerously designed junction on CS2, where there's no physical protection for people cycling

This isn’t what we’ve been campaigning for. Sure, cyclists have priority, but do you really trust London’s drivers not to left-hook here?

Anybody cycling along CS2 here needs the neck of an owl to pass this junction safely. Not only must they look behind to the right to make sure there’s no left-turning motor vehicles approaching from the rear, but a look forward-left is also required to check for vehicles emerging from the side road.

The segregating barrier finishes just below the bottom of the photo, so the only separation is white lines. Drivers turning left can then take a relaxed line towards the junction by drifting over into the cycle lane so they don’t have to slow down as much. Stratford High Street is a very fast road (and I saw no speed cameras) so some drivers will take this corner dangerously.

I expect that when driving along this fast road there is pressure on drivers to keep their speed up, so slowing down to take this corner safely – or stopping in the road to wait for cyclists to clear the junction – will not be a comfortable manoeuvre.

Why does the physical separation end so far back? Do TfL want to encourage dangerous corner-cutting by drivers here?

A far safer solution here would be to take the cycle path gently away from the road and for it to rise up to footpath height, so that anybody cycling across the side road here will be meeting turning cars at a right angle, which is much easier than the cars coming from behind. If motor vehicles have to mount a hump, and the corner radius is tight enough, then they will have to slow down and turn the corner at a much slower speed also.

This is more like it. Turning cars have somewhere to slow down and wait until the cycle path is clear, and the tighter corner radius and hump enforces slower speeds.

Something like this would be much safer. Turning cars have somewhere to wait until the cycle path is clear, and the tighter corner radius and hump enforces slower speeds.

Making Stratford High Street 30mph and installing some speed cameras to enforce it would also help matters, as drivers turning off the main road wouldn’t feel pressure to take the corner at speed to keep the carriageway clear.

Bust-up at the bus stop

Another poor detail is the bus stop bypasses. They are a compromised example of the concept.

On approaching the bus stop, the cycle path veers sharply away from the carriageway and narrows to as little as 1.5 metres. Due to the ridiculous decision to use 13cm-high vertical kerbs rather than the approximately 30º-angled, forgivingsplaykerbs, this narrow channel (or “gully” if you prefer) feels a little uncomfortable.

Also, due to TfL’s decision to keep the cycle path mainly at carriageway level rather than halfway between carriageway and footway level, the pedestrian crossing humps can be rather too sharp and steep, though this does vary from hump to hump. (There’s not much consistency along the route, except for the shade of Barclays-approved blue.)

Bus stop bypass on CS2 at Stratford

The cycle track width reduces from around 2m wide to 1.5m wide.

TfL have designed the bus stops this way to encourage lower speeds and force single-file cycling throughout them. I can understand why they’ve done this – there’s a lot of jerks who ride bikes in London, and we don’t want them hitting people crossing to or from the bus stop island.

But then there are a lot of jerks driving cars in London too, but TfL seem reluctant to apply the same logic to them, even though they can (and do) cause much more damage.

For some reason TfL are perfectly happy to let jerks drive two abreast at pedestrian crossings, but not cycle two abreast. I don’t understand why cycling gets stricter treatment than driving where there’s potential conflict with people on foot, but this isn’t the first time I’ve seen this (note the humps in the cycle track here, but complete absence of traffic calming on the parallel carriageway).

You may also notice the brown stripe along the blue paint in the photo above, which shows that the sharp bend doesn’t actually do the job of slowing cyclists down anyway – it’s possible to take the curve at speed.


*I say “generally of a good width” because it varies quite a lot along its length. I measured several points along the Stratford-bound side and the narrowest bit I found was a mere 1.3m where it narrows to accommodate a traffic light pole (though it is at footpath level so there are no kerbs, at least). The general width is usually at least 1.9m give or take a few centimetres and at the Stratford end it widens, bizarrely but luxuriously, to over 3m.

END OF PART ONE…

Coming up in part two (or three):

  • The “pants” junction and the loop-de-loop right turn
  • Signalised junctions with turning conflicts included
  • The bizarre ending
  • The ghost of the past
  • And other poorly planned cycling infrastructure

Don’t miss it!

 

 

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Royal College Street did not “Go Dutch” part 2: Width

So Camden Cyclists admit that Royal College Street isn’t “truly Dutch” (though they still claim it has “gone Dutch”).

They now suggest that the street is in fact a mix of Spanish, Canadian and Danish cycling infrastructure styles. But they do also claim one ingredient from our neighbour to the east: “The lane widths conform to Dutch CROW standards.”

They are wrong to claim this, and I’ll explain why.

Looking at the new design, the cycle lanes do look pretty generous. Two whole metres wide! (That’s a bare minimum for new Dutch infrastructure.)  So the width ain’t bad.

Two people ride across a bus stop platform at Royal College Street, one behind the other.

Looks wide, but is it really?

It’s certainly far wider than what Tower Hamlets considers suitable which is so bad it ridicules itself. (I wonder if any one in Tower Hamlets council described that as Dutch?)

Never mind the quality, feel the width

In cross-section, it would look something like this (not to scale):

A cross-section diagram of the Royal College Street cycle lane, showing the absolute width to be 2 metres.

Looks pretty spacious, doesn’t it!

But there’s a problem, and it’s a biggie: you can’t actually use the whole track.

The issue is that the kerbs are steep and high – higher than your pedal at its’ lowest point. Ride too close and the pedal will whack the kerb, either on the side or on the top, and that won’t be nice.

A photo of a bicycle pedal hitting the high kerb at Royal College Street.

No bikes were harmed in the making of this article.

As a result, it’s just too dangerous to ride close to the kerb, so people tend to ride further out towards the middle of the lane.

A man riding a bike along the Royal College Street cycle lane. He is well away from the kerb.

Because of this, there’s not that much room to overtake or ride side-by-side comfortably. It can be done, but you’ve got to keep your wits about you (to coin a phrase) and be careful not to wobble.

A diagram of two people riding on a cycle track with high kerbs, showing the danger zone and discomfort zone close to the edge.

Please forgive my cack-handed drawing of a person on a bike. Also: NOT TO SCALE!

As the diagram above shows, the full width isn’t actually available to ride in. Get too close to either edge and your pedal will strike the kerb or the planter. Naturally, the closer to the edge one rides, the less comfortable one feels.

While I was watching people ride along the new track, overtaking mainly happened while passing the armadillos – the overtaker can get close to them without hitting their pedal on a planter.

A diagram of a cycle lane with a high kerb and an armadillo

The sections with the ‘armadillos’ make for easier overtaking

I also witnessed people leaving the bike lane to overtake other riders, then rejoining once they’d passed by. (Surely this is proof that there’s not enough space?)

So overtaking a single rider is possible, but it can be a little uncomfortable as there’s not much room for error.

It ain’t what you got, it’s what you do with it that counts

For full use of the available width, it would look something like this, and I want you to bear in mind that the width of the riding surface is exactly the same as in the other diagrams above:

A diagram of a Dutch-style cycle path, showing that the full width can be used

The entire width of the track can be used. Remember, the width of the surface is exactly the same as in the other diagrams above.

Here, the cycle lane (or rather, cycle path, or – even better – cycleway) has been raised up halfway between the road and the path (or, to use more technical language, halfway between the carriageway and the footway), so the footway is about 75mm higher than the cycleway (this is known as the upstand). Also note the ~30º angled “forgiving” or “splay” kerbs, which are safe to ride against, as the wheel is gently nudged back into the cycleway.

Now the full width of the track can be used – even better, as it’s safe to ride right up to the forgiving kerbs, pedals and handlebars can extend beyond the width of the cycle path, which means that the effective width is even wider. (This requires the footway to be wide enough for the comfort of people walking, and for the separation on the carriageway-side to be wide enough, too. I’ve not shown this in the diagram above.)

My diagrams may not be to scale with the outside world, but they are to scale with each other, and the Dutch-style cycle path clearly has far more capacity than the Royal College Street examples – even though the width of the surface, from edge to edge, is exactly the same width in all four diagrams.

That “Dutch CROW standard” 2 metres (which, by the way, should be a minimum, not a target) isn’t being used to its full potential at Royal College Street – indeed, it can’t physically be used by the people who ride along it – and the experience of riding on a proper Dutch cycle path of exactly the same actual width would be quite different.

North vs South

I’ve only covered the northbound lane here. The southbound lane is even more tricky, as the right-hand barrier is a row of cars, so you can’t just leave the cycle lane for a few seconds and then rejoin. The discomfort zone is also very wide due to the risk of dooring. I’m going to cover this in another post, but for now, how would you overtake this rider if they were a little further back up the hill?

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Royal College Street did not “Go Dutch”

The new Royal College Street layout is still not finished yet, but having seen the plans and seen the parts which are finished I think I should let you know about Camden’s flagship cycle scheme. My conclusion: it’s not very good.

It’s certainly not “truly Dutch” despite what Camden Cycling Campaign say.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s better than 99.9% of other roads in the UK and I’d much rather cycle here than almost anywhere else in Britain – but that really is faint praise, as almost every other road is truly dreadful.

The annoying thing about Royal College Street is that it’s essentially new-build. The whole road has been resurfaced and had a new layout applied, so there’s no excuse for rubbish here.

But there are so many flaws it’s difficult to know where to start. So why don’t I start with the bus stops? They’re certainly nowhere near Dutch standards (this is what Dutch bus stops actually look like).

Here’s a photo of a bus stopped at the southern-most bus stop on Royal College Street:

A photograph of a bus stopped on the new Royal College Street layout. There is room for cars to pass the stopped bus, but people boarding or alighting must stand in the cycle path while doing so. A bike user veers onto the footpath to avoid people getting on and off the bus.

This is not Dutch.

There are several things wrong here. The obvious problem is that despite there being plenty of space here, bus passengers and bike users are put into direct conflict, as people boarding or alighting the bus stand in the cycle path. The woman riding a bike here has illegally veered onto the footpath to avoid this conflict.

The other thing that’s wrong here is that while people on bikes must either break the law or stop, cars can pass the bus unimpeded! (Did someone say “prioritise cycling”?)

Another photograph of the same bus stop on Royal College Street. A taxi and a motorbike pass the stopped bus, while bike users and bus passengers are placed in conflict.

This really, really is not Dutch.

However, this isn’t what was promised. Here’s the detail from the original consultation document:

A detail from the plans for Royal College Street, which show that the bus stop filling the width of the carriageway.

This was never going to be Dutch.

As you can see, the original plans show the bus stop filling the width of the carriageway, forcing motor vehicles to wait behind the bus while it is stopped. But in reality, the road here is much wider, wide enough for a car to overtake a stopped bus.

I pointed this out on Twitter and got rather arsey replies from the Camden Cycling Campaign who insisted that the scheme was fine and that a taxi is a “skinny car” (whatever the hell that means):

Camden Cycling Campaign tweets: "Some skinny car squeezed through when bus stopped close to kerb. So..??" and "Camden plan: buses delay cars. Except if no parking. The consultation drawing gives carriageway 3.9m, bus stop 3m? OK?"

This is in English.

Brian Deegan (who was head of the scheme until he moved from Camden Council to TfL) also discussed it, insisting that cars did wait behind stopped buses, although he conceded that he hadn’t actually been to look yet.

He also said that Royal College Street was “tighter to the north” which isn’t entirely correct either. It is true that the entire road width is narrower, but due to having no parking spaces the carriageway is actually wider and even large vans can pass buses here!

A photograph of the second bus stop on Royal College Street. There's enough space for a large van to pass the stopped bus, while a bike user has to stop while passengers board and alight the bus.

Even less Dutch.

So, while the van and taxi pass the stopped bus, the bike rider on the left has stopped while the bus passengers cross the cycle track to reach the narrow footpath. Does that seem like prioritising walking and cycling to you? Because it sure doesn’t look like it to me.

It looks like business as usual, prioritising private motor vehicles while patting cycling on the head (along with walking and public transport).

Just after I took the photo above, another rider chose to leave the semi-segregated cycle lane and follow the cars, passing the bus on the right-hand side rather than come to a stop until the cycle track was clear of bus passengers. I understand why he did this – why lose all your momentum when there’s clear space to proceed? – but he shouldn’t have had to make that decision. People on bikes shouldn’t be faced with a choice of choosing to be safe or choosing what’s convenient. Good cycle infrastructure is both safe and convenient.

There’s clearly plenty of space at both bus stops for a proper bus stop island to enable passengers to board or alight without standing in the cycle track. In fact, I have made one of my mock-ups, showing what the bus stop at the southern end of Royal College Street could look like:

An altered photo of the southern bus stop on Royal College Street, showing that there is plenty of space for a bus stop island.

This is more like it. (Though as Chris points out in the comments, the bus shelter should be on the island. Like this altered version of Camden’s own visualisation which I did in January.)

Conclusion: The bus stops are crap

So that’s what I think of the bus stops on Royal College Street: they’re crap (or poor, or second-rate, or sub-par, whichever you prefer) and they force bus passengers and bike riders into conflict, while giving motor vehicles the red carpet.

Further to this, it must surely be stressful for people with visual or mobility difficulties to step off a bus into a stream of passing bikes, or to step in front of on-coming bikes when the bus pulls in. And what’s more is, there’s no need for this conflict whatsoever. We know how to do it right, and shouldn’t be building in conflict like this. If the street was extremely narrow then maybe I could sympathise, but it’s clearly not.

There are other things wrong with Royal College Street – the high kerbs massively reduce the effective width of the cycle tracks, and at one point the track turns into an advisory lane which then disappears altogether – but I’ll save them for another post.

This isn’t what I expected when we asked London to “Go Dutch”.


Footnote: I wonder if Brian Deegan has been on David Hembrow’s Study Tour? I think he really needs to see what good cycle infrastructure really looks like.

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Andrew Gilligan versus TfL’s love for motor vehicles

You know what? This Andrew Gilligan chap might not be half bad. I went to a talk last week at which he was the main event, and I went in full cynical miserable sod mode as usual, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Now, all the excitement about the Mayor’s cycling “Vision” has died down and is giving way to more sober scrutiny, although I wonder why we cycling campaigners weren’t cheering for Caroline Pidgeon rather than Boris all those weeks ago. (We have a voice in the London Assembly who has seen the Vision and is calling for more! Surely we should be behind that 100%?)

Having said that, I do like a lot of the language in the “Mayor’s Vision” document, which was written by Gilligan. There’s lots of bold statements about doing things right and about treating cycling as a proper mode of transport, all of which is very pleasing to the cycle campaigner’s eye. At the talk he told us that he accepts that installing cycle paths will sometimes increase journey times for motor vehicles – something which was heresy at TfL a couple of years ago, and probably remains so in certain quarters.

He was also very blunt about some of the crap cycle infrastructure which has been installed in recent years (yes, he used the word “crap”), openly admitting that much of what’s been done, and what continues to be done, simply isn’t anywhere near good enough.

But there’s also some rather less bold statements, about shared bus-and-bike lanes for example (Will motorbikes and taxis still be allowed in them? Is it fair that 50 bus passengers have to wait behind me as I ride at a casual 8mph?), and a strange faith in the power of mandatory cycle lanes (“which motor vehicles cannot enter” – ha!), but still, things seem to be pointing in the right general direction at least.

I was rather disappointed by Gilligan’s target of 5% cycling modal share by 2020, which I consider to be rather unambitious, but at least he did explain his reasoning behind this, which is that it’s a larger increase than anywhere else has managed, so a higher target is very unlikely. (Though I wonder if he’s taken the awfulness of rush-hour public transport into consideration – surely Londoners would flock to a safe, free alternative to the Central line?). I may disagree with the figure, but at least he put some thought into it unlike Edinburgh city council which picked a number out of thin air before deciding not to bother.

So even though I don’t agree with everything he says, I do like the way in which Gilligan comes across (though I suspect that’s one reason why he got the job in the first place). I think this might be because he’s a journalist and therefore skilled at communication, but also because he’s not a politician. He didn’t have to make any promises to a braying public in order to get the job, and he’s not chasing any votes in the future, so he doesn’t have to sugar coat bad news or slither his way around tricky questions. I found his honesty and candour to be quite refreshing, and I was impressed to see that he didn’t rush off immediately afterwards but instead stayed behind discussing things with attendees without even a hint of wanting to be somewhere else.

So I want this post to be read in the spirit of constructive criticism, rather than just whinging. I’m also aware that I covered this topic in my last post, but I’m going to talk about cycle paths along main roads again anyway.

Quietways should be secondary routes

At the talk on Monday there was much discussion of the Quietways and the obstacles which will need to be overcome. One big problem is that the local borough councils control most of the roads, and therefore TfL will need their co-operation (and the co-operation of residents) to implement the Quietways.

When Gilligan was giving hypothetical of the new routes which will roughly follow tube lines, he said something like “for example, you could take the Bakerloo superhighway to Baker Street then get on the Circle Quietway to Kings Cross” as he waved his hand to the south, rather than out of the north-facing window towards the wide, thundering, TfL-controlled clearway of Marylebone Road which lay right outside the building we were in.

I understand that was just an example and that he wasn’t giving us any hints about a probable route for this part of the network – he was very careful to not make any announcements like that yet – but I got out my map anyway and looked for a possible route from Baker Street to Kings Cross which didn’t involve riding along the terrifying but conveniently direct urban motorway which is the A501 (AKA Marylebone Road and Euston Road).

The Mayor’s Vision document says that “unlike the old London Cycle Network, Quietways will be direct” but it’s just not possible here. The best I could find was the red line shown below:

A map showing two routes from Baker Street to Kings Cross in London. The direct route on TfL roads, and the complex wiggly route on local council roads.

Dangerous but direct route (in blue), or safe but slow Quietway (in red)? The dual network awaits your selection!

In his introduction to the Vision document, Boris Johnson says: “Cycling will be treated not as niche, marginal, or an afterthought, but as what it is: an integral part of the transport network, with the capital spending, road space and traffic planners’ attention befitting that role.”

Sounds great, but that red line doesn’t look like an “integral part of the transport network” to me.

The Vision’s promise of direct Quietways simply isn’t physically possible here. I strongly suspect that if the only option was a back-street Quietway, most of those hardened commuter cyclists who already cycle from Baker Street to Kings Cross will simply continue to do so along the A501. So who is the Quietway for? Surely we’re not talking about the ridiculous “dual networkagain?!

Why would TfL continue to prioritise motor traffic while keeping cycling hidden on the back streets?

Perhaps it’s because of London’s narrow medieval road system – after all, the A501 only has seven lanes for motor vehicles here and a central divider (how quaintly 10th-century!) so I guess the bike users will have to slum it where they don’t get in the way of all that very important burning of fossil fuel:

A photograph of Marylebone Road in London, which has six lanes for traffic and one parking lane.

“London doesn’t have wide roads like New York City” (Pic: Google Maps)

If Boris is telling the truth, then the only option is to take space from Marylebone Road/Euston Road and turn it into cycle path. Otherwise we’re just prioritising motor vehicles yet again (“Driving from A to B? Take the straight, direct road! Cycling from A to B? Turn right, then second left, then a dog-leg at the next lights, then left, then third right…”).

The nice thing about this is that it would join up with the much-lauded Westway bike paths and – if you’ll permit me a moment of fantasy – from Kings Cross they could easily tackle Farringdon Road, Blackfriars Bridge and Road… Sort Park Lane out too, and we have a central London circular cycle route!

This is a problem which the Quietways will come up against time and time again – very often, the only direct routes between popular locations are the big, busy roads. It’s a problem which will become particularly acute anywhere near the Thames, as nearly all the bridges are heavily used by motor traffic. Unless Gilligan has a big enough budget for two-dozen new bridges along the Thames then bikes will have to be accommodated on the existing bridges, and this can only be done by taking space from motor vehicles (or the footways – this isn’t an anti-car thing – on the western side of Blackfriars Bridge where the footway is extremely wide, for example).

It’s not an insurmountable problem, but creating safe, clear space for cycling will require the cojones to take space away from motor vehicles, which I hope Andrew Gilligan has.

A focus on Quietways means the LCC’s “Go Dutch” campaign failed

Without being prepared to put bike paths on main roads such as the A501, the Mayor’s Vision is not what we wanted. David Arditti’s Go Dutch option won the LCC’s campaign vote by a huge majority, and subsequent events have shown how popular the Dutch concept is. Even after LCC’s yellow-bellied mangling of the wording, there’s only one thing that “Go Dutch: clear space for cycling on main roads in every borough” could possibly mean – Dutch-style cycle paths along main roads. (They weren’t suggesting we all speak Dutch while being tailgated by a bus, were they?)

But that’s not what the Quietways concept is.

Don’t get me wrong – the Quietways are a hugely important addition to a proper segregated network of cycle paths, but on their own they’re not the cycling revolution we’ve been promised. They shouldn’t be the primary cycling routes.

Maybe I’m being impatient here, but I worry that the Quietways is yet another attempt at providing cycling routes without adversely affecting motor traffic in any way, which are therefore ultimately doomed to die an obscure death on the back streets.

And maybe I’m getting ahead of myself too – Gilligan didn’t give any details about the route, perhaps even the phrase “Circle Quietway from Baker Street to Kings Cross” was just a throw-away example. Perhaps they really are cooking up something exciting for the A501. I really hope so.

I really don’t want to sound down on Gilligan, as I think he gets cycling in a way that nobody of influence at TfL has done before. But by going after this seemingly easy option of the wiggly back-street routes he runs the very real danger of repeating the mistakes of the LCN and LCN+, despite aims and promises to the contrary.

Does Gilligan have the power and influence to change decades of motor-centric culture at TfL, or is he there to use his journalistic skills to put a positive spin on lacklustre efforts?

Perhaps the real battle isn’t the one which Gilligan is prepared to enter with the boroughs, but the fight with a much bigger foe, which is long overdue. I speak of every liveable London and safer streets campaigner’s worst nemesis: TfL’s Network Assurance department.

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